It's finally Memorial Day Weekend. The "unofficial" start of Summer signifies more than just changing weather to me, it's the beginning of a transition from 2019 NFL Draft analysis to the start of 2020 NFL Draft scouting.
Here’s the thing about Summer scouting, it’s takes a different approach than the winter. When it comes to evaluating prospects in the Summer, I tend to shy away from full-scale grading of traits. With an entire season to improve ahead of them, grading prospects at that time seems premature and unnecessary.
Summer scouting, to me, is more about the gathering of information and introductions into each prospect’s game. Identifying players with potential for growth in their skill-set and body can give an early indication of future intriguing prospects. The first prospect that qualifies in that category that I’ve come across this year: Virginia rising junior outside linebacker Charles Snowden.
In high school, Snowden was originally more regarded as a basketball recruit than a football player. At 6’7 and relatively thin at the time, he initially didn’t play football in high school. As he continued to fill out, he joined football and became more dominant on the gridiron. A two-way player who played wide receiver on the offensive side, Snowden focused on defense upon his arrival at Virginia.
He entered college weighing just 190 pounds, but has packed on muscle to reach 225 pounds entering his true junior season.
Last season, his basketball and wide receiver background was on full display for the versatile linebacker. He led the country in pass breakups (9) and passes defended (11) for linebackers while being tasked with playing in space and on the edge. His size and natural ball skills gives him a unique type of range that can disrupt throwing lanes at the line of scrimmage or in his zone drops. Against Louisville, quarterback Jawon Pass found out the hard way that testing Snowden’s length can end poorly:
When Snowden gets a read on the quarterback’s release, he can alter passes at the line of scrimmage either by deflections or disrupting ideal throwing lanes. This is a trait most commonly associated with J.J. Watt, and Snowden has the potential to become equally as effective in that area:
While he only had 2.5 sacks in 2018, Snowden added 7 tackles for loss and did a good job of constantly disrupting the pocket. His traits suggest a player who can potentially dominate passing downs with his combination of pass rushing and range in coverage.
Despite being lighter for an edge rusher, Snowden has burst out of his stance and an obvious advantage in how quickly he can eat up space. He gets into the frame of blockers quickly, generally before they can get comfortable at the top of their sets. That makes his bull rush more effective than the typical 225 pound pass rusher:
Snowden is a smooth operator, and has more than enough flexibility for his length. While not the bendy, Brian Burns type, he can still corner the edge and pursue the pocket as well as any 6’6+ pass rusher. Limiting surface area is usually a difficult task for taller pass rushers, but Snowden’s background and film suggests plus flexibility in his lower-half:
One thing that sticks out with Snowden is how quickly he closes space down on the quarterback. When he’s able to open up sideline to sideline or straight ahead, his length allows him to reel in ball carriers in a flash. When he gets a player in his vision, few players are able to escape him:
Snowden needs to continue adding bulk to his frame to hold up against more powerful offensive lineman. Being just a true junior, his frame is likely nowhere close to being completely filled out. However, his athletic traits and potential suggest a prospect with a noticeable ceiling.
It would be hard to pinpoint a particular role for Snowden while he’s at a relatively early point in his developmental curve. He shows positive upside as a pass rusher, blitzing linebacker and space player. That multiple skill set will allow him to fit well and thrive in nearly any defensive scheme.
As far as identifying intriguing prospects early in the Summer goes, Charles Snowden fits the bill.